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Baylor expert offers tips, alternative Halloween fun for younger children who scare easily.

When it comes to Halloween, some people take the cute and silly approach to decorations and costumes while others embrace the darker side of the holiday – think headless horsemen, gnarly witches and spooky music emanating from homes draped with cobwebs and skeletons. For some children this can be downright frightening, says an expert in family psychology at Baylor College of Medicine.

“For a small number of children, especially younger and shy children, this can be a frightening time,” says Dr. James Bray, associate professor of family and community medicine at Baylor. “Parents should be sure to emphasize the fun and pretend side of Halloween, and they should not force kids into situations that make them feel scared, because this usually backfires.”

Avoid trick or treating at scary houses or other frightening activities, like haunted houses or mazes, Bray says.

“It is important not to force children to go to scary houses or activities,” Bray says. “This usually only increases their fear and anxiety and may result in nightmares.” 

For those children who are too scared to trick or treat at all, there are plenty of other options, Bray notes, like festivals at churches and community centers. These offer fun activities in controlled and safe environments, but parents must still be vigilant about other children scaring their child.

When a child is frightened about Halloween, it’s generally not something to be too concerned about. In some cases, though, it might point to general anxiety issues. 

“If there are other symptoms associated with Halloween anxiety – for example, if kids want to avoid school with Halloween decorations, develop nightmares or insist on sleeping with the light on, these may be signs of a broader problem, especially if they continue after Halloween is over.”